Good Eating for Experts: More on Why Africa is Poor

Michael Wines, writing from Malawi in Africa:

It makes one wonder why, with so many experts here to do good, the rest of the country not only isn’t thriving, but is slipping backward.
. . .
There is even a hilarious poem demonizing “the development set”:

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

MICHAEL WINES. “Letter From Malawi: Amid Squalor, an Aid Army Marches to No Drum at All.” The New York Times (Weds., December 7, 2005): A4.

Finland Building Europe’s First New Nuclear Reactor in 15 Years

Petr Beckmann holding a copy of his The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear. Golem Press, 1976. Beckmann died on August 3, 1993. Source of photo and Beckmann date of death: http://www.commentary.net/view/atearchive/s76a1928.htm

Not all those who are right, live to see their ideas vindicated. Thank you Petr Beckmann, for writing the truth, when the truth was not popular.

. . . when Finland, a country with a long memory of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and considerable environmental bona fides, chose to move ahead this year with the construction of the world’s largest nuclear reactor, the nuclear industry portrayed it as a victory, one that would force the rest of Western Europe to take note.

But the decision to build the reactor, Olkiluoto 3, Europe’s first in 15 years, was not taken quickly or lightly.
. . .
“There is an expectation that others will follow, both because of the way the decision was made and the boosting of confidence in being able to get through all the oppositional fear-mongering,” said Ian Hore-Lacy, the director of public communications for the World Nuclear Association, an industry lobbying group.
The United States, which has not had a nuclear plant on order since 1978, is experiencing a groundswell of interest. Taking the first step in a long process, Constellation Energy, a Baltimore-based holding company, announced in late October that it would apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to construct and operate a pressurized water reactor like the kind being built in Finland, possibly in upstate New York or Maryland. The Finnish reactor, designed by Areva, the French state-controlled nuclear power group, is being built by Framatome ANP, a joint venture of Areva and Siemens, a Germany company.
In addition, President Bush signed into law an energy bill in August that offers billions of dollars in research and development funds and construction subsidies to companies willing to build new nuclear plants. Several utility companies have applied for early site permits, a preliminary step toward building reactors.
Worldwide, the resurgent interest in nuclear power is even more pronounced. Twenty-three reactors are under construction this year in 10 countries, most of them in Asia, which has aggressively pursued nuclear energy. India is building eight reactors. China and Taiwan are building a total of four reactors and are planning eight more. Russia is building four and South Korea is planning eight.

Nuclear energy’s selling points were timely: it does not create emissions, unlike coal, oil and gas, and provides predictable electricity prices, a major bonus for Finnish industries, nuclear proponents said.
“The only viable alternative, if we want to maintain the structure of the economy, maintain our industries and meet our Kyoto targets, is nuclear,” said Juha Rantanen, the chief executive officer of Outokumpu, one of the world’s largest steel producers and one of Finland’s biggest energy users. “We can’t have a declining economy. We face huge challenges and an aging population. Something had to be done.”
Environmentalists, however, argued that nuclear reactors could never be entirely safe. They are always radioactive, and their waste remains toxic for 100,000 years.
But the designers of Areva’s pressurized water reactor, which is costing $3.5 billion to build, helped counter those arguments. In the event of a core meltdown, they said, the nuclear material would flow into a separate enclosure for cooling. They also said that the reactor is being built with enough concrete to withstand the impact of an airliner.
In the end, Finland’s largest trade union supported the project, basically sealing the deal.
. . .

Read the full article at:
LIZETTE ALVAREZ. “Finland Rekindles Interest in Nuclear Power.” The New York Times (Mon., December 12, 2005): A10.
(Note: ellipses added.)

“Fierce” Competition Even When One Firm has Half the Market

 

   Graph source: page C6 of article cited below.

 

(C1) YOKKAICHI, Japan – Nestled in a valley in central Japan, surrounded by forested hills and terraced rice paddies, is one of the world’s most sophisticated – and secretive – semiconductor plants. Inside the windowless plant, built by the Japanese electronics maker Toshiba, tiny cranelike robots shuffle along automated production lines, moving stacks of silicon wafers the size of dinner plates. Masked technicians watch as rows of tall machines grind the wafers, etch circuits on their surfaces and cut them into tiny rectangular computer chips. Inside, visitors are allowed to peek through windows at only a small part of the factory floor. Toshiba is anxious to guard the secrets beyond because it needs them to wage one of the most ferocious battles in today’s electronics industry, for control of the fast-growing market for the advanced memory chips at the heart of portable music devices like the Apple iPod Nano. The fight pits Toshiba and its partner, SanDisk of Sunnyvale, Calif., a maker of memory cards, against Samsung Electronics of South Korea. Both camps are spending billions to build new factory lines, hire engineers and develop more powerful chips in a bid to gain supremacy. The chips, called NAND flash memory chips, differ from earlier computer memory chips in that data on them can be easily erased and replaced and they can store data even after the power is turned off. That makes them like miniature hard-disk drives, only much more durable because they lack moving parts. The newest flash memory chips are the size of a fingernail and can store two gigabytes, the equivalent of every word and image printed in nine years of a newspaper. While Toshiba invented the chips more than a decade ago, Samsung has seized the lead with bigger production volumes and lower prices. In the three months that ended in September, Samsung had a market share of 50.2 percent of the $2.97 billion in total global NAND sales, ac- (C6) cording to iSuppli, a market research firm based in El Segundo, Calif. Toshiba’s share was 22.8 percent. SanDisk is not included in iSuppli’s figures because it does not sell its chips, but instead uses them all in its own memory products. . . . At Toshiba’s Yokkaichi plant, there is a palpable determination to catch up with the larger Korean rival. Engineers work in shifts around the clock to speed up development and production of new chips. Noriyoshi Tozawa, the plant’s manager, said he kept workers on their toes with little reminders of darker times. One is an elevator that has been kept out of use since 2001; a sign on the doors says that it was turned off after a crash in computer chip prices almost forced the closure of the plant, which used to produce DRAM, another type of memory chip. "You have to always be at the leading edge to stay alive in this industry," Mr. Tozawa. "We know what it’s like to lose."

To read full article, see: MARTIN FACKLER. "Among Makers of Memory Chips for Gadgets, Fierce Scrum Takes Shape." The New York Times (Mon., December 12, 2005): C1 & C6.

scrum: "a rugby play in which the forwards of each side come together in a tight formation and struggle to gain possession of the ball when it is tossed in among them" Definition source: http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=scrum&x=6&y=21

 

Industrial Giants Succeeded in Philanthropy in the Same Way They Succeeded in Business

(p. 3) . . . the Gateses were not the first to see that money could sometimes move mountains in public health. They are following in the footsteps of the industrial giants of the late-19th century, said Dr. Howard Markel, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine.

These men also brought their fortunes to bear on social problems, and believed that they could succeed in philanthropy in much the way they had succeeded in business.
The donors of the robber-baron years started their philanthropy while still alive – a novel idea then. Andrew Carnegie, for example, gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to build libraries long before his death.
The largest bequest in American history prior to Carnegie’s time was from Johns Hopkins, a Baltimore merchant, who left $7 million to found the eponymous university and hospital in 1873 – after he died.
But the closest parallel to the Gates approach to philanthropy is that of John D. Rockefeller, said Dr. Markel and Robert E. Kohler, a medical historian from the University of Pennsylvania.
Rockefeller built Standard Oil. Like Mr. Gates, he was the richest man of his time, and like him he was reviled as a greedy monopolist.
Rockefeller, like Mr. Gates, hired a professional to run his charities. And he, like Mr. Gates, used his money systematically to identify and attack important public health problems.
Rockefeller hired Frederick T. Gates, a former minister (and no relation to the Microsoft co-founder) as his philanthropic executive. Mr. Gates read an 1892 medical textbook that convinced him that diseases had causes, like germs and worms, that could be fought by science – not a universally accepted idea at the time.
The most famous health campaign he started with Rockefeller money was the drive, begun in 1907, to rid the rural American South of hookworm. Called “the germ of laziness” because it caused anemia and made victims lethargic and dull-witted, hookworm afflicted up to a third of Southerners.
The foundation set up clinics that administered purgatives and – because the worm is shed in feces and picked up by bare feet – taught people to dig deep privies and wear shoes. More Rockefeller money underwrote some of the 20th century’s great public health drives, many using research done at Rockefeller University. Clinics were built in 50 other countries to eliminate hookworm worldwide. The effort failed because the worm can survive in soil and reinfect people; but the problem diminished, especially in parts of Asia.
In 1915, the foundation declared war on yellow fever; by 1932, scientists had realized that monkeys were also a reservoir for the virus, making eradication impossible, but by then Rockefeller scientists had invented the vaccine still used today.
Patty Stonesifer, chief executive of the Gates foundation, said she and William H. Gates Sr., the father of the software pioneer and co-chair of the foundation, consider the Rockefeller campaigns especially instructive. “We stood on their shoulders,” she said.
. . .
As Ms. Stonesifer said admiringly of the Rockefeller campaign against hookworm: “A lot of people would say, ‘you’ve got to reduce poverty to get rid of hookworm.’ But the Rockefellers said, ‘You don’t need a 20-year intervention. You can use shoes.’ “

For the full article, see:

DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. “The Rich, Sometimes, Are the Best Medicine.” The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., December 11, 2005): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

In Defense of Suburban Sprawl

SprawlBK.jpg Image source: web version of WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. P16) For at least half a century, academics, aesthetes and all-purpose agonizers have looked at our ever-sprawling cities with disdain and even horror. The spectacle of rings and rings of humankind nested in single-family homes has inspired in them all sorts of revulsion and, relatedly, a whole discipline of blame: Suburban sprawl has been faulted for exacerbating racial tension, contributing to energy shortages, worsening pollution and heating up the globe — even expanding waistlines.

Largely missing from this debate has been a sound and reasoned history of this pattern of living. With Robert Bruegmann’s “Sprawl: A Compact History,” we now have one. What a pleasure it is: well-written, accessible and eager to challenge the current cant about sprawl.
No, Mr. Bruegmann says, don’t go blaming the Federal Highway Administration for sprawl or the executives at General Motors and Exxon or racist developers fleeing urban environments. Don’t even blame Karl Rove. You really don’t need to blame anyone. Mr. Bruegmann notes that contemporary sprawl — best defined by places like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston — is nothing new. It represents “merely the latest chapter in a long and curious history.”
What propels that curious history is something often overlooked by the makers of grand theories — the particular choices of individual human beings. Mr. Bruegmann places the urge to sprawl squarely where it belongs: on people’s logical desire to escape the high costs, crime, pollution, congestion and lack of privacy that accompanies life in dense cities.

For the full review, read:
JOEL KOTKIN. “In Praise of ‘Burbs. Academics, planners and tastemakers may vilify suburbia as an American blight. But even the Romans knew: It can be nice to get out of the city.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2005): P16.

The book that Kotkin’s review is praising:
Robert Bruegmann. Sprawl: A Compact History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. (264 pages, $27.50)

Is Democracy a Normal or Inferior Good?

In economics a “normal” good is one where, ceteris paribus, consumers demand more of it when their incomes rise. Conversely, an “inferior” good is one where, ceteris paribus, consumers demand less of it when their incomes rise. Here is an example relevant to the continuing debate about whether political democracy is a normal or inferior good:

A huge throng of pro-democracy protesters poured through the skyscraper canyons of Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon, defying warnings from senior Chinese officials who refuse to set a timetable for general elections here.
The march continued well past sunset, as more and more men, women and children of all ages emerged from side streets and subway stations to join. Organizers estimated the peaceful crowd at 250,000, while the police put it at 63,000.
At either measure, the turnout was surprising because Hong Kong’s economy is booming, unemployment is falling and the city now has a popular and charismatic chief executive, Donald Tsang.

KEITH BRADSHER. “Hong Kong Protesters Want Election Timetable.” The New York Times (Mon., December 5, 2005): A6.

Audacious Nigerian Kleptocrat Cross-dresses to Evade Justice: More on Why Africa is Poor


“Workers installing imported marble on a staircase at Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s official mansion.” Photo by Michael Kamber for The New York Times. Source of photo and caption: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/29/international/africa/29nigeria.html?pagewanted=1

YENAGOA, Nigeria, Nov. 22 – Precisely where in the rogue’s gallery of corrupt Nigerian leaders Diepreye Alamieyeseigha will fall is a matter for history to judge. Gen. Sani Abacha, the military dictator who helped himself to at least $3 billion and salted it away in foreign bank accounts, doubtless stole far more.
But General Abacha – who ruled the country from 1993 to 1998 – never fled money-laundering charges in a foreign land by donning a dress and a wig to match forged travel documents, as Mr. Alamieyeseigha, the governor of a small oil-producing state in the Niger Delta, did last week, government officials said.
For their sheer audacity, his antics are likely to earn him a prominent place among the leaders who in the past four decades are believed to have stolen or misspent $400 billion in government money, most of it the profits from Nigeria’s oil reserves.
“It is a new low,” said Gani Fawehinmi, one of Nigeria’s most prominent lawyers and a longtime campaigner for good governance. “And in Nigeria that is saying something.”
Mr. Alamieyeseigha is suspected of siphoning millions of dollars in cash and buying an oil refinery in Ecuador along with several houses in London, California and South Africa. He has denied stealing money from the state.
The sordid saga of the governor comes as the federal government has engaged in a broad effort to rehabilitate the country’s image around the world.
Long associated with rampant corruption and kleptocratic governments, Nigeria has year in and year out gotten one of the worst scores in Transparency International’s world corruption perception index, though this year its rating improved slightly.
Corruption touches virtually every aspect of Nigerian life, from the millions of sham e-mail messages sent each year by people claiming to be Nigerian officials seeking help with transferring large sums of money out of the country, to the police officers who routinely set up roadblocks, sometimes every few hundred yards, to extract bribes of 20 naira, about 15 cents, from drivers. (p. A1)

For the full article, see:
LYDIA POLGREEN. “As Nigeria Tries to Fight Graft, a New Sordid Tale.” The New York Times (Tues., November 29, 2005): A1 & A12.